India had Plassey in 1757, China had Opium War 1 in 1839, and Japan had Commodore Perry’s visit in 1853. After centuries of keeping the imperialists at bay, Japan found them knocking down the gates. And in a series of events studied by everyone in Asia but never imitated, Japan went from having a brief colonial encounter to joining the imperialists within a few decades. We don’t know if anyone can tell you why it happened, but we can tell you what happened, on this episode of Civilizations.
I bring Carl Zha on for another Kung Fu Yoga episode, this time about Canada. We discuss the unanimous declaration by the Canadian parliament (followed by the Netherlands parliament days later) in February 2021 that a genocide is taking place in Xinjiang. What’s really behind this declaration, and how can Canadian history, and Chinese history, help us think about the issue? We reference relevant episodes from the Civilizations Series and from Carl Zha’s Silk & Steel podcast.
Having burned the palace of the ruling Qing dynasty, the imperialists decided to take their side and help them defeat the Taiping. As Zeng Guofan’s encirclement strategy takes hold, the imperialists are running the Ever Victorious Army with figures like Garnet Wolesley (who fought Louis Riel in Canada) and Charles Gordon (who we’ll meet again in the Scramble for Africa). It ends with the fall of Nanjing, terrible massacres, and an accounting of the death toll and what was left of China at the end of the worst civil war in history.
Anjuli Raza Kolb is the author of Epidemic Empire: Colonialism, Contagion, and Terror 1817-2020, new from University of Chicago Press. It’s a huge book with many threads, so in this discussion we pick up one: the idea of “colonial science”, how imperialism manages to co-opt and use every type of knowledge; and the question of whether some of the knowledge produced in imperialism can be turned to liberation (thinking of Fanon, or the Haitian Revolution).
In the midst of the most destructive war in China’s history, the imperialists decided it was time to sack and burn China a second time. In this episode, on the Second Opium War, we talk about the deepening imperialism, get you into the bizarre imperialist mind of Lord Elgin as he rationalizes the burning of the palace in Beijing, show you again how Marx was well ahead of his contemporaries writing about the Peiho stitchup, and talk about the strategies of Ye Mingchen and of Prince Seng.
The end of the first Opium War was just the beginning of the horrors China faced under imperialism. Beginning in 1850, China was rocked by a 10-year long civil war that took an estimated 20-30 million lives. You read that correctly. In the middle of that war, the imperialists attacked China again and fought a second opium war, which we’ll get to next. But first, the first part of the Taiping Rebellion, from 1850-56.
We reach back in time a little bit to start the Civilizations Series on 19th century China – now known as the century of humiliation. The Opium War was one of the moments that turbo-charged imperialism. We tell the story the way Civilizations does – going back and forth between the imperialists and the local forces that tried valiantly (and in the case of our protagonist this episode, Lin Zexu, honorably) to resist. The series will continue with Opium War 2, the Taiping Rebellion, the reforms, and the Boxer Rebellion – but first, Opium War 1.
By 1885, the Indian Act was in place, most Indigenous people were forced onto reserves, and the nadir of Canadian colonialism (so far) was set. Part 3 of 3 our series on Canada takes us through the residential school system and the racialist ideologies openly expressed throughout this phase of Canadian history.
Along with colonialism, smallpox and the driving to extinction of the beaver and then the buffalo played an immense role in the creation of what is now Canada. We tell the story of these factors in the development of Canadian colonialism from the days of New France and the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Riel Resistance of 1870, in part 2 of our series on Canada (that will go at least to 3 and probably 4 parts).
Some readings and errata on the Civilizations Resources page.
Part 1 of at least 3 on Canada, this one sets up the story of Canadian colonialism with some required historical touchpoints about Canada’s devolution into independence from Britain, the story of Confederation as a series of business deals, and the role of racism in Canadian immigration policy.